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218                                                                                                            B- POLEVOI
Behind him Alexei heard a feminine voice say in reproach:
"He ought to be ashamed of himself, letting a
wounded man stand next to him and not offering him a
seat! The poor lad is being crushed, but he doesn't care a
bit! Sits there, quite sound himself, as if bullets will never
touch him. An Air Force officer, too!"
Alexei flushed at this undeserved rebuke. His nostrils
quivered with anger . .. but suddenly he got up with a
beaming face and said:
"Take this seat, buddy."
The wounded man started back in confusion:
"No thanks, Comrade Senior Lieutenant. Don't trou-
ble, I can stand. We haven't far to go. Only two stops."
"Sit down, I tell you!" said Alexei with affected stern-
ness, seeing the humour of the situation.
He made his way to the side of the car, leaned against
the wall, supported himself on his walking-stick with
both his hands and stood there smiling. Evidently the
old woman in the check kerchief who had rebuked Ale-
xei saw that she had been mistaken, for her reproachful
voice was heard again:
"Look at them! Hey, you over there, in the hat! Sitting
there like a princess. Offer the officer with the stick a
seat! Come over here, Comrade Officer, you can take my
seat. For God's sake, make way there, and let the officer
get through!"
Alexei pretended not to hear. The amusement he had
felt passed off. At this moment, the conductress called out
the name of the stop at which he was to get off and the
train slowly came to a standstill. Pushing his way through
the crowd to the door he came up with the old man in the
pince-nez. The latter nodded to him as if to an old ac-
quaintance and asked in a whisper:
"Well, what do you think, will they open the second
front after all?"
"If they don't, we'll manage ourselves," answered Ale-
xei, stepping on to the wooden platform.
Grinding its wheels and loudly sounding its siren the
train vanished round the bend, leaving a thin trail of
dust. The platform, with only a few passengers, was soon
enveloped in fragrant evening repose. This must have
been a pleasant, restful place before the war. The tree